Buttercups at Cambridge

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The course I attended (Flowering Plant Families) is run by Cambridge University staff.  This is Dr Tim Upson introducing the course at the Botanic Garden, by the lake. We had just seen a grass snake and joked about how plants often get upstaged by animals!

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Ranunculaceae is the Buttercup family, which contains many ornamentals.  Well known members are the buttercup (obvs), Delphinium, Aquilegia and Thalictrum.  The plants are mainly herbs, with a few climbers (Clematis).  It has a world wide distribution and plants in this family contain alkaloids – some are poisonous, like Aconitum.

The family name Ranunculaceae is pronounced ran-un-queue –lacey.

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A buttercup pulled apart: this family is not characterised by the number of petals and sepals as they are variable.  Linking characters for Ranunculaceae: flower parts are free and not fused, and spirally arranged along the elongated receptacle. There are numerous stamens and carpels.

Buttercups are actinomorphic which means they are radially symmetrical, as opposed to zygomorphic (bilaterally symmetrical).  Think of a cup and saucer – the saucer is actinomorphic (symmetrical along 3 planes) but the cup is zygomorphic (symmetrical along 2 planes).

The following three illustrations of Hellebore varieties are taken from our cultivated collection. Despite names such as ‘Christmas Rose’, this plant is not in the rose family but the buttercup family.  The first is from ‘The Garden’ the monthly magazine of the Royal Horticultural Society, 1879. The second was from another horticultural magazine: Edwards’s Botanical Register by S.T. Edwards & J. Lindley, 1838, and the third illustration was taken from Paxton’s Flower Garden, 1850-53 by J. Paxton.

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A herbarium sheet of Anemone nemorosa (wood anemone), from the buttercup family, collected by Lydia Becker in Whalley Wood, April 1864 for the British Botanical Competition. Lydia Becker was a suffragette and was born in Chadderton, Manchester.Image

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One thought on “Buttercups at Cambridge

    Timothy Body said:
    February 6, 2014 at 8:46 pm

    Loved this.

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